SEATTLE — Minutes after being sworn in for his second term, Gov. Jay Inslee got right to the point.
“Our top priority, fully funding education this year.”
The governor’s inaugural speech this year doubled as his State of the State Address. Inslee mentioned other issues but his 20-minute talk Wednesday focused almost entirely on funding public education.
Inslee said issues like use of deadly force, paid family leave, gun safety and taking care of veterans are all important. But education, he said, is the paramount duty for lawmakers this year.
“None of these issues are more important than fully funding K through 12 education to our kids,” Inslee said.
The Washington Supreme Court, in its 2012 McLeary decision, found that the state was failing to fully fund the state's basic education system and ordered the Legislature to begin making improvements. In 2015, the Supreme Court announced it would begin fining the Legislature $100,000 a day for violating its order to take steps to begin fully funding education.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the chamber applauded when the governor said a four-year degree is not the only way to achieve success.
But when he touted his $4 billion tax proposal to fix the education system, there was no applause from the Republicans.
Republican lawmakers say they are committed to funding public education but they don’t like what is on the table right now, saying Inslee’s plan is too tax-heavy and that will hurt businesses.
“It’s heavy B & O tax, it’s heavy on taxing many of the small businesses,” state Rep. J. T. Wilcox, R-Roy, said.
Answering questions after the governor’s speech, some Republicans say new taxes aren't the answer. They are interested in reforming what’s already in place.
“Why is the most affluent part of the state, they pay by far the least portion of the school of their taxes,” Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said.
Some are after what is called a levy swap, which would essentially reduce districts use of local levies while raising property taxes for wealthy school districts. Although Inslee wants to raise $4 billion in taxes, he is opposed to raising it through property and sales taxes.
Republicans say they need time to identify new revenues.
“Certainly we are not going to be reliant on taxes as this governor, I guarantee it,” said state Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
As the two sides disagree on how to fix the problem, Inslee told lawmakers there is more than one path to fix the crisis. He reminded the state that the stakes are high.
“Kids are only 5 years of age one time. If we don’t do this for them, they don’t get a redo,” Inslee warned.